Hickory Crawdads vs. West Virginia Power (South Atlantic League)L.P. Frans Stadium-Hickory, NC: The fifth day of our trip was pretty busy also. We spent the morning and afternoon visiting some Civil War battle fields, and I was in heaven at the Under Armour outlet store. We then started the long road back west toward Hickory. We pulled into L.P. Frans Stadium ready for some baseball, though. There seemed to be another small crowd, but there were a few buses that arrived to fill the seats. Our seats were front row, right behind home plate. It’s a given you’ll have to deal with some netting with these seats, but the netting just seemed to keep going and going. I don’t think there were many seats at all with a clear view. Not sure if this is just the team teams in the Carolinas that love the net, or the SALly league. Hickory seemed to be a team that is community based, and the fans all seemed to know each other for the most part. Again, I’m sure with a bigger crowd the atmosphere would greatly improve. They did have a nice play area for the kids and a carousel, also. The Crawdads do host a nice game, and this was a good addition to our trip.
The game gave us a victory for the home team, but not much offense for either team. Center fielder Lewis Brinston led the ‘Dads going 2-3 with a double. On the mound, C.J. Edwards earned the win going over five innings. Final score: Crawdads 2, Power 1.
Carolina MudCats vs. Lynchburg HillCats (Carolina League)
Five County Stadium-Zebulon, NC: It was a bit of a day of polar opposites, as we arrived in Zebulon to watch the MudCats. The GPS couldn’t find the stadium address, either, so getting there was a bit of a chore, but once we got our of Raleigh and headed east, it was all good. It was a Monday night, and it’s been my experience that games on this night are generally not well attended. I really didn’t expect, like, fifteen to twenty fans to be there, though. Really…I’m not exaggerating. Lucky for the MudCats, too, that I was meeting up with an old friend that I played baseball with in high school, to add to the attendance. At least it was a quiet game, so my buddy Chris and I could catch up a bit, and talk about old times. I also had a chance to explore the ballpark some and get some pictures. Five County Stadium is very unique, and I really like the way it’s set up. There are not too many rows of seats in the lower level, but mostly in the upper level. The upper level seats hang over the dugouts, and really give you a nice view of the game. As with most of the stadium in North Carolina, there was plenty of netting, too, to protect the fans. A little too much for my tastes, but I was able to move around it to get some more pictures. Despite the low attendance, the on field DJ still had some fun with the fans who were there, and the mascot Muddy the MudCat (a giant catfish) wandered the concourse, as did a gorilla chasing a giant banana. See how fun the minors are? I’m sure the atmosphere is better when the stands start filling up this summer, and I did very much enjoy my first Carolina League game in Zebulon. At least I was able to catch a foul ball, but waited until there was two outs in the ninth inning to do it!
As for the game, the home team didn’t rally much with such an empty stadium. The HillCats, however, really had their bats heated up, as they put eleven runs across the plate. Shawn Morimando took the loss for the MudCats, giving up seven runs, but only five of them earned. Carolina did have a couple of players got 2-4, though, in catcher Ryan Battaglia and third baseman Yhoxian Medina. Tough loss for the hometown MudCats, but I’m sure things will get better once some fans are in the stands. Final score: MudCats 4, HillCats 11.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Durham Athletic Park-Durham, NC: I’d be crazy not to check out the old stadium in Durham. You know, the one they filmed that movie at? It’s located just a mile or so from the new one, and it still sits in a neighborhood like it does in the movie. It seems like it’s still in use, as the outfield was being mowed when I got there. My luck, too, because the outfield gate was open, allowing me to sneak in a get a few pics, anyway. I was just amazing, though, to think that back in 1988 it was full of Hollywood magic, and Bull Durham would become one of the most loved baseball movies of all time. The first thing I did when returning home, was to watch the movie again (ok, it wasn’t the first thing, but I did watch it). It was cool to see where I had been, and knowing I’d been to Asheville, too, that was featured toward the end of the show. Our day wasn’t done yet, though, as we still needed to head west for some Carolina League action that night. I know what you’re thinking, though. Seeing four ballparks and two games in one day is a little excessive. Even for the Carolina League.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park-Durham, NC: This is one that have been on my bucket list for some time…the Durham Bulls. And what a better time than the 25th anniversary of the hit movie Bull Durham? The new ballpark is located right downtown, so parking can be a nightmare. Throw in all the construction, and it’s a pain if you don’t get to the ballpark early. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park was simply the gem of our trip. It’s an amazing ballpark with no bad seat in the house. It’s easily one of the best minor league parks we’ve ever been to. It was a beautiful sunny day, and luckily we were able to catch some shade. It was a little ironic, too, that we were sitting next to someone from my hometown, Grand Rapids, MI. I enjoyed the game immensely, and the Bulls really do put on a great show for their fans. Triple-A is also a good chance to see the young stars on the rise, and former major leaguers in action as well. If you’re a baseball fan, you need to see a Durham Bulls game. It’s as simple as that.
The game itself saw the Bulls defending their home turf against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. The Bulls took care of business early, and never looked back. Lead-off hitter Jason Bourgeois led the way offensively, going 3-4 with an RBI. Third-baseman Vince Belome contributed a pair of hits and an RBI, also. Alex Colome earned the win on the mound for the home team, throwing seven complete innings. Our Durham experience lived up to the hype, and couldn’t have gone better (well, maybe it would have been nice to see a player win a steak, and the mascot hit by a pitch). Final score: Bulls 8, Iron Pigs 2.
Burlington Athletic Stadium-Burlington, NC: On our way east from Greensboro, we decided to stop by the home of the Burlington Royals to check out the ballpark and see if they had a gift shop open. The Royals are in the Rookie Appalachian League, so they don’t start play until later on in June. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any memorabilia for sale at this time, but the ballpark was wide open for us to poke around a bit. We were also lucky enough to run into the Royals GM, Ben Abzug, who last season was named the Appalachian League Executive of the Year. Ben was a very gracious host, giving us a history of the team and the ballpark. I found it very interesting that the ballpark was originally built in Virginia, but purchased and brought to Burlington piece by piece when they were awarded a team. He also explained to us the differences between the rookie league and other Minor League clubs. It was a very interesting and informative morning! Too bad we couldn’t see a game here, but at least I made it into the park to get some nice pics. Next stop…Durham!
NewBridge Bank Park-Greensboro, NC: We had to leave the college game a little early to make sure we made it to Greensboro on time. It was well worth it, too, as NewBridge Bank Park has a beautiful facade, and it gave me a chance to get some nice pics outside the ballpark. We also wanted to be there when the gates opened so we had time to play catch on the field. It’s always a thrill to actually get out there where all of the action takes place! It was fun and relaxing to get out there and have a good game of catch. Also, with all of the travelling, it was good to be active and stretch our legs. After my impressive athletic display, we found our seats and got ready for the game to start. There wasn’t a huge crowd for a Sunday game, but the fact that it was Mother’s Day may have had a hand in that. Still a good crowd, though, and they really like their Grasshoppers! The mascot Guilford was active with the fans, and liked to hang out on the visitors dugout. He seemed to be really good with the kids in the crowd. The really fun and unique aspect of the Greensboro experience, is that they have two dogs, Miss Babe Ruth and Lulu Gehrig who fetch the bats, and take baseballs to the umpires. Just one of the many things we’ll always remember about this trip! A Grasshoppers game is a must for any baseball fan who is in this area. With a beautiful ballpark, great fan base, and unique aspects of the club, no one can leave a game not satisfied!
For the actual game itself, the Grasshoppers (Miami) hosted the Lakewood BlueClaws, a Phillies affiliate. Greensboro jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but unfortunately, that was the only scoring for the home team. The BlueClaws would score three runs in the fourth, and two in the seventh for the win. We did see some solid pitching for both teams, though. Anthony Gomez, Matt Juengel, and Cody Keefer each had two hits for the home town ‘Hoppers. Austin Brice looked solid on the hill, but still took the loss. Final score: Grasshoppers 1, BlueClaws 5.
Wake Forest Demon Deacans vs. Miami Hurricanes (Atlantic Coast Conference/NCAA)
Gene Hooks Field-Winston-Salem, NC: We were blessed with another beautiful day, as we headed north from Charlotte up to Winston-Salem for some college baseball. You might be wondering how a kid growing up in northern Michigan can become a fan of the Miami Hurricanes. Then again, you might not be. Anyway, I became a fan of the ‘U’ in the 80’s, while watching their sports teams win with attitude and swagger. You can understand my excitement, then, when I realized that the Wake Forest Demon Deacons would be hosting the ‘Canes during the very weekend we would be down there. The game took place at Gene Hooks Field, which is located just off campus next to the football field. It’s formerly Ernie Shore Field, that at one time hosted the Winston-Salem Warthogs of the Carolina League. With the Deacons taking over after the Warthogs became the Dash, and moved to their new stadium, Wake Forest inherited a nice venue for college baseball. I spent most of the game chatting with a fellow Michigander, who now coached football and baseball in the area. It was also senior day for the Deacons, with a pre-game ceremony celebrating their last home game. The rubber match of the series went to the home team, with the ‘Canes giving up six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning that broke a 3-3 tie. Despite the loss, the future looks bright for Miami as freshman David Thompson and sophomore Garrett Kennedy both hit home runs in the loss. It was still a lot of fun for me, and I really wish we could have squeezed more college games into our trip. Final score: Wake Forest 9, Miami 3.
Charlotte Knights vs. Pawtucket Red Sox (International League)
Knights Stadium-Fort Mill, SC: Well, it was a beautiful night in Fort Mill, anyway. The stadium is located just south of Charlotte. It was a Saturday game, so there was a really good crowd, and again it was good to see so many kids and families. It was also breast cancer awareness night, so the Knights were wearing their pink jerseys that were auctioned off after the game. The Knights had two mascots on hand, with Homer being the boy dragon, but I didn’t catch the name of the female one. The Charlotte Knights cheerleaders/dance team was also on hand, the lovely KnightinGals. Knights Stadium is nothing spectacular, but is good size for Triple-A. It’s a good walk up the stairs from the front row to the concourse. Some fans are excited by the new stadium being built downtown, but most feel it will bring higher prices for tickets and concessions. The current stadium isn’t that far from Charlotte, and has plenty of parking, so I think an upgrade would be better than a new one. We ended up moving from the front row to the upper deck to get a better view of the action, too. There’s not a bad seat in the house, but we love the upper deck. We met some great baseball fans in Charlotte, and it was a great night for baseball.
The game itself wasn’t much fun for the home town fans, but there seemed to plenty of Red Sox fans cheering the visitors. I guess the Nation really is expanded, because we met plenty of BoSox fans in both North and South Carolina. It was good to see former Whitecap Justin Henry play again, also, for the PawSox. He played in West Michigan back in 2007. Final score: Charlotte 0, PawSox 4.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson Museum-Greenville, SC: While in Greenville, we also visited the ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson Museum, which is located right behind Flour Field. The folks who run the museum are the nicest you’d ever meet, and they love their baseball. They stated that they spend more time at the museum than their own homes! They are also extremely knowledgeable about Joe and the history of baseball in the area. The museum is in Joe’s home that he had built-in 1940. Unfortunately, many of his trophies and memorabilia were taken after the death of his wife. It’s believed that family members came to the house and took most those items. It’s a nice little museum and a must for any baseball fan in the area, especially if your taking in a Drive game anyway.
Flour Field-Greenville, SC: After flying into Charlotte, we headed south for the first game of our trip. We were about five miles from the Greenville exit, though, when traffic came to a stop. Complete stop. It took us about forty minutes to go that five miles, but we finally made it to Flour Field downtown well before game time. As with most downtown stadiums parking is scarce, so if you visit here be sure to leave yourself some time. The gift shop is outside the stadium, so it’s was easy to get our shopping done and leave it in the car. The Greenville Drive is affiliated with the Red Sox, and they really embrace the Nation. The outfield at Flour Field is replicated after Fenway Park, they have their own ‘green monster’, and they even sing ‘Sweet Caroline‘ in the eighth inning. It was a good crowd with a fine baseball atmosphere, also. Lots of kids and families watching the game which is good to see. My only complaint about the stadium is that the netting extends beyond the dugouts, so it was difficult to see the game at times.
The game itself was one of the best we’ve seen. Both the Drive and GreenJackets made some great defensive plays. In a high scoring game, Greenville hit three home runs while Augusta added one. I really recommend a Drive game for anyone in the area. We had a lot of fun, with great weather, and it was a perfect way to kick off our trip. The Drive have the best on field DJ I’ve seen, too. He really kept the crowd into the game without it being too much. Final Score: Greenville 10, Augusta 6.